Aim. With the recognition that environmental health has relevance to all nursing and midwifery activities, the aim of this paper is to discuss nurses’ and midwives’ past and present involvement in environmental health in the UK, where the international situation demonstrates good practice, and the challenges and possibilities for greater and more effective UK-based activity in the future.
Background. The association between environmental hazards and adverse health effects has received increasing attention over recent years. In the United States of America (USA), the importance of developing an environmental health role for nurses outside of the ‘traditional’ occupational and environmental health nursing specialty has been recognized and acted upon through education, information programmes and policy developments. In the United Kingdom (UK), the same degree of interest, commitment and activity is somewhat lacking.
Discussion. Little nursing and midwifery activity on environmental health issues has taken place in the UK over recent years. The lack of development in this field may relate to the problems of an already overstretched disease treatment service and the lack of an upstream approach to public health. Theoretical and philosophical influences, as well as individual and organizational obstacles or constraints, exist and may hinder nurses and midwives in their efforts to address the subject. Yet nurses and midwives are the largest group in the National Health Service workforce and this gives enormous potential for effective interventions in environmental health.
Conclusions. Whilst barriers and obstacles to nursing and midwifery involvement in environmental health in the UK exist, they are all surmountable and appropriate interventions could prove cost-effective in the middle and long-term. Additionally, they may be viewed as a necessary activity for nurses and midwives in response to real health threats and the expressed worries and concerns of patients and communities.